Shut me in a Room with Her and Blocked From Leaving

I have a coworker, who, in my personal opinion, is slightly off her rocker. Other coworkers feel the same about her. She has days where she is courteous and acts “normal” then others where she is extremely ….lets just say different. She has worked here longer than me by 5 months (a total of 4 years) and will ask questions that have obvious answers.

She is confrontational not just with me but other coworkers as well and will make a point to look on other people’s work to try and find mistakes. She will ask our boss a question, and our boss will give her an answer. Then she proceeds behind his to ask many people the same question. She’s been reprimanded for that.

Well recently I was in her part of the office looking for a file (that is where the files are stored), and she closed the door to my part of the office (the doors ALWAYS stay open). When I tried to walk towards my door, she blocked my way; so I tried to go towards the only other door in the office (exit out into the warehouse), and she moved so I couldn’t get out of that door either). She said she wanted to talk to me but I told her, “No” that I didn’t like being in a closed room (I’m claustrophobic) and that I didn’t feel comfortable talking to her at the moment.

I told her to let me leave and she still wouldn’t. I didn’t try to get past her because I was afraid she might say that I hurt her or pushed her. Plus I didn’t know what she would do and I was 6 weeks pregnant at the time. But while all of this was happening, another coworker saw her close the door on me from her desk and got my boss, who then came through the door. He told my coworker who had closed the door under no circumstance was she to ever close a door on anyone again.

Unfortunately 4 days later I found out I lost the baby (I have no idea if it was from stress or just a miscarriage.) My question is Can she do that? And what can I do if it were to happen again? Also I don’t know if this helps but I live in SC.

Signed Shut In and Blocked from Getting Out

Dear Shut In and Blocked from Getting Out:
We regret that you suffered a miscarriage. It’s understandable that you would search for a possible cause and can wonder if a stressful time of being closed off from your office by a coworker might have contributed to your loss. We are not medical doctors nor do we pose as qualified to offer a psychological opinion on that. Our focus on how communication problems might harm a workplace and ways a communication rich environment can foster a workforce to perform effectively. The answer is NO, it’s not OK to your question: Is it ok for a coworker to shut me in a room with her and not let me leave?

The specific problem of a coworker blocking your exit from a closed space has been handled by your boss’ order that the door to the file storage room should never be closed again. You ask: Can she do that? And wonder if it might that happen again? Possibly. But it is not likely she will do that again. Since you are claustrophobic it would be wise to arrange for someone to monitor the door should your work require you enter there. This situation of being blocked from exiting should be reported to your boss. It need not be call for this individual’s discipline, but it should be made clear to this woman that she was wrong.

Your question appears to leave up in the air why this woman wanted to speak with you. Possibly your boss or a counselor needs to consult with her separately as to if there are job description concerns that need to be clarified and/or resolved. Your more general description of how this coworker, let’s call her Clara, seems to repeatedly want answers to questions that should be common knowledge indicates there is something lacking. The fault might be only Clara’s. She might be a slow learner or in need attention. She seems to want attention by talking behind your boss’s back.

But the fault might partially your work group. Do you have regular staff meetings focused on working more effectively and harmoniously? Do you as huddle to facilitate who does what, when, where, and how? Organization is not a finished system, but an on-going process of seeing that everyone is on the same page. In a very real sense organization is not just a noun; it is an active verb, or at least it should be. Work groups don’t function as teams without regular skull sessions and when appropriate one-on-one or cluster huddles about projects and day to day assignments. When that happens your boss becomes a coach.

One of the most beneficial products of skull sessions is hammering out communication rules—the dos and don’ts of how a work group talks to and about each other. Sometimes two individuals can spell out the dos and don’ts of communication between themselves, but it is best if a group puts that on its agenda and from time to time reviews and decides if the rules are being followed or need revised.

So I wish you well with Clara, other coworkers and your boss. You will find work much more harmonious if you can clarify who does what and what communication makes your work group function as a team. Perhaps if you visit our archives you will find other questions and answers about coping with troublesome coworkers speak to your concerns.

Working together with hands, head, and heart takes and makes big WEGOS. I’m sure you can understand what that means for your organization. I hope you find these thoughts support your commitment to make your day to day meaningful and enriching to your workplace, your coworkers and yourself. I’ve copied this answer to co-workplace doctor, Tina Lewis Rowe. We both will be interested in what you do and how things work out.
Bill. Gorden
FOLLOW UP: Mr. Gorden,
We do have regular staff meetings. During those meetings we discuss many ways of how to make our jobs go more smoothly (communication, networking, our specific systems we use etc.) After having a private meeting that included my coworker, my boss, and myself I found out that what she wanted to talk to me about was work related and personal….more specifically she was upset because I came to her to fix an error that she made(my boss instructed me to do so.. would normally leave it up to him but in this case he told me to take it to her) I pointed out the error and she became defensive which is something we are working on.

She admitted that she takes things personally but my boss reminded her that its part of the job…if an error is made it needs to be fixed by the person who made it and it doesn’t matter who points it out. He told me that if i find a problem to take it to her directly from now on (most problems are small and can be fixed with just a few clicks and in a few seconds. Although some problems may be small, everything must be accurate or could cost the company very large amounts of money.) My boss also asked her how I approached her because he thought maybe the way I pointed it out could have caused the problem, but he determined after talking to her that I approached it in the appropriate manner.

Thank you for your help with this issue. I think things will be better moving forward. My coworker apologized and rules have been made clear to her. On the subject of my miscarriage thank you. There really is no way to determine what caused the miscarriage. It could have been one in a hundred things that caused me to lose my child. I put no blame on her because there is no way of knowing. Fortunately I have good news as I just found out that I am pregnant again. The doctor said I am 2 weeks along and I pray this pregnancy goes with no complications. Thank you so much for your time and advice!

Reply: Thank you for updating us. Much that causes conflict between and/or among coworkers and their bosses can be prevented or resolved by talk about talk–and that appears to be what you are reporting. So do visit Ask the Workplace Doctors from time to time–and also my associate Tina Lewis Rowe’s site for her good sense and inspiration. Our best to you during your pregnancy.
Dr. G